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July-August 2016

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In Memoriam: Millard “Mike” Morley Groben (1928–2015)

The past few years have not been kind to the mineral community: we have lost some of the legends of the mineral world. Mike Groben is probably not known to the current younger group of mineral dealers and collectors, but certainly those of us in a certain age group can look back fondly on this brave, funny, and considerate man.

Mike was born on 4 July 1928 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to parents Millard and Pauline (Morley) Groben. While attending Bethlehem High School he spent his summer breaks working with the U.S. Forest Service in the Coeur D'Alene National Forest. His Uncle Will worked as chief forester in Washington, D.C. There was a day when Uncle Will took Mike for a visit to the Smithsonian Institution, and a new passion was born. Passing through the mineral hall Mike was stopped in his tracks by the beauty before him. That was it for Mike. Back home in Pennsylvania Mike started collecting the local areas. God bless Uncle Will! Mike went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in forestry from Pennsylvania State College in 1951, followed by a master's in logging engineering from the University of Washington in 1953.

Mike was a forester with the Harbor Plywood Corporation in southwestern Washington State until 1962. Perhaps the most important person in his life, Betsy Gentemann, worked in the office. They were married in 1957. He then worked in Arcata, California, for the Twin Harbors Lumber Company cruising tracts and also as area manager of Capella Operations in Ukiah, California, until 1962, when he moved his family to Coos Bay, Oregon. In Coos Bay he worked as timber manager, forester, and joist manager for the Coos Head Timber Company. In 1967, while on the job, Mike took a tumble and became a paraplegic. He remained with Coos Head until 1995 when the company was dissolved. He then did consultant work for other logging firms until 2001 when he suffered a stroke.

Despite Mike's being confined to a wheelchair, we all looked forward to his visits to the Tucson and Denver shows over a thirty-year period. Always upbeat and interested to know the latest happenings in the mineral world, Mike assembled a fine collection from such dealers as Walt Lidstrom, Julius Zweibel, Gene Schlepp, Wayne Leicht, Bill Larson, John Veevaert, and others who have come and gone during Mike's collecting years. He had a special interest in zeolites, and certainly Oregon is well known for its prolific zeolite localities.

Mike and his family were very involved with their community. The list is long of organizations in which they were active: the Rotary Club (he was made an honorary member in 2015), Coos Art Museum, Southwestern Community College, and Coos Foundation, to name but a few. Together, Mike and Betsy (who celebrated their fifty-seventh wedding anniversary in 2015) gave freely of their time to many worthy organizations in the area. His wall is filled with service awards.

Mike was one of the founding members of the Friends of Mineralogy and an organizer of the annual Northwest Mineral Symposium. In later years, despite failing health, he continued to keep up with the mineral world with his subscriptions to the leading mineral magazines. For many years he was a consulting editor of Rocks & Minerals, reviewing and recommending articles for publication. He loved working with young people and was always a judge of the 4-H displays at the Coos County Fair.

For a number of years during the late 1960s Mike had a mining claim in Oregon that he named “Betsy Girl”—it did not produce any collectible specimens, but Betsy and the kids would take him there in his wheelchair. They all loved these outings—the kids would break up rocks and show them to Mike, who was just as enthusiastic about a plain old rock as he was over a fine mineral specimen. What they did collect was brecciated basalt that Mike would then send to Ward's Scientific Establishment. He also traded with collectors, dealers, and museums around the world, thus enabling him to build his collection.

There is one aspect of Mike's life of which everyone can be proud: the Mike Groben Scholarship (established in 2011 by his friends and business associates) is awarded each term to a student at Southwestern Oregon Community College who has overcome adversity in their life. Certainly Mike did … I never heard him complain or get discouraged about his condition. He took on all he could with much caring, a sense of humor, and an obvious love for the wonderful family that surrounded him.

Mike died on 30 October 2015 and is survived by his wife, Betsy, sons Scott and Ross, daughter Elizabeth, four grandchildren, and his sister, Judith (Groben) Chypre.

I always enjoyed visits with Mike and each time came away with a feeling about all that is good in this world. To sum up Mike Groben: he was just a damn good person.

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